Tick Reviews: Doghouse (2009)
“Now is NOT the time to stop objectifying women!” That quote alone should be enough for you to have some idea of what you’re getting into here. Doghouse is the rude, PC skewering humor of the American Pie level, mixed with the all too under used splatstick horror of early Peter Jackson. It’s the sort of combination that makes the teenage boy in you pump your fist in anticipation. It’s the sort of guilty pleasure in waiting that you know, on some base level, can’t be all bad. It isn’t. Unfortunately, it’s not all good either.
Doghouse tells the tale of a group of old friends getting together to take their mate Vince (Stephen Graham) out for a drunken weekend getaway to help him get over his divorce. They decide to go to the sleepy English village of Moodley, which is literally in the middle of nowhere, because Mikey (Noel Clarke) has heard that his mother has gone on a cruise, leaving her house open for them to party in. It isn’t long after arriving that they find that all of the men in Moodley are dead and all of the women have become cannibalistic monsters of some sort and they are now going to be spending the weekend fighting for survival.
That’s the long and the short of the plot. There’s not much else besides that and, really, the basic horror tropes presented here are a standard we’re used to. Which is fine, because any horror fan knows that while the skeleton or a horror film is always basically the same, it’s the meat that makes the monster. The setup here gives the promise for some wry commentary on the battle of the sexes and I was hopeful that this was where this film was going.
Hell, the beginning leads you to believe that this might have a feminist edge to it, at the very least. The film opens with a day in the life of each the characters as they are about to embark on their boy’s weekend. It’s not meant to make them look very sympathetic. It’s meant to take the piss out of the characters right off the bat.
Neil (Danny Dyer) is an obnoxious, pig of a man who views women as subhuman sex toys. Mikey and Patrick (Keith-Lee Castle) are cheats and scumbags that leave their wives, perhaps for good, to embark on their weekend of debauchery. Matt (Lee Ingleby) is the nerdy man-child stereotype that can’t connect with a woman who isn’t in the pages of a comic book and Banksy (Neil Maskell) is the bumbling buffoon that the fat guy always is in this sort of film. Even their gay friend Graham(Emil Marwa) comes off as a dog as he tells his partner that he isn’t invited because he’s the girl of the relationship. As we’re told, Vince himself was once the leader of the group and the most testosterone seething man they’ve ever known before being reduced to a shell of his former self by his soon to be ex-wife.
As I said, this is setting up to have a feminist bent on things. Between these harsh edged stereotypes of our characters, how the film mocks them and their behavior early and often and the fact that the demon psycho zombies that they will be facing are all women, it’s obvious that there is going to be a message here and that some men are going to be getting their comeuppance. Except, by the time you get to the closing credits, you find out that this could be one of the most misogynistic films ever made.
Not that I think that’s the film’s intentions. Not entirely. It’s an obviously jokey film and it’s all very tongue in cheek. I do think it’s meant to push some buttons. I do think there may be some bitter feelings seeping through the script towards some writer’s unknown ex. There is some dialogue in this film that I think may have felt cathartic while writing it, and it may have been meant as a virtual fist bump to men going through similar situations, that is just flat out going to piss some people off. It’s also going to make this a breakup cult film for a lot of men. You’ll get your gore and vicarious thrill of seeing “man eating bitches” get their heads lopped off.
However, it’s a shame that there has to be this much of a line in the sand drawn here, though. This is the sort of film that could have had it’s cake and eaten it too if it had just followed some simple horror movie rules. One of the basic, most holy, tenets of horror films is that people always get what’s coming to them. If you are an unsympathetic piece of shit, you die. That’s a horror movie golden rule. That just doesn’t happen here. I don’t want to spoil too much, and I know I sort of am, but who lives and who dies in this film makes no sense whatsoever.
It would have been very simple to give gruesome, horrible deaths to the most deserving parties and with that you would get some leway. You take the men down a few pegs, you can have your diatribes against certain types of women and it feels like you’re hitting both sides equally. You at least get to do it without completely alienating half of the audience. You could level things out and called it even as the film showed the worst of both sexes, while punishing both sides. It would’ve easily made the film better, in fact. Instead the film ends up lunkheaded and sexist.
As far as the rest of the film, on just the splatstick level, it mainly works. The jokes have the proper range between clever and corny. It’s a mixed bag and while most of humor hits it’s target, there are gags that are painfully unfunny. Watching a morbidly obese demon woman in a tiny nightie, eating severed digits slathered in frosting as one of our captive heroes asks her to stop playing around with finger food, is frankly just stupid and uninspired.
The gore is plentiful. Fans of the genre know what they want out of a film like this and Doghouse delivers in those areas. There’s also a nice blend of, as mentioned earlier, old school Peter Jackson aesthetics and an odd video game vibe that makes a lot of the story unfold as if you were playing it on a console. There’s a goofy X-Box kick to watching the boys find items in stores to battle against scissor wielding zombie beauticians in dominatrix outfits. There’s a bizarre quotient here that really helps the film elevate itself away from the standard zombie film.
Then there’s the problem with the ending. Oh, that ending. It’s one of the worst finishes I’ve seen in recent memory. Not for the usual reasons, either. There’s no out of left field twist or cliché surprise to set up a potential sequel. Doghouse just ends abruptly without any rhyme or reason to it. It’s like the production ran out of money and film or everyone simply got bored and decided to go home. The fact that it’s in the middle of a very unfunny scene that feel very adolescent makes it even worse.
The sad thing is, there’s a very good film lurking within this mess. There are some very simple and logical choices that could have been made here that would’ve changed the entire tone for the better. Just a little bit more clever and a little bit more tweaking of it’s subject matter and this could’ve been something special. It’s still worth a look, but it isn’t going to be more succesful as anything other than a party film.
5.5 out of 10